When the Lady Vols took the court to warm up for the second half, Parker joined them and was dressed out for the first time."> When the Lady Vols took the court to warm up for the second half, Parker joined them and was dressed out for the first time.">

UT Lady Vol Candace Parker cleared to practice

Tennessee Lady Vol freshman forward Candace Parker was cleared Tuesday to begin practicing with the team, beginning Dec. 26. <p> Parker, the most-highly acclaimed member of the "Super Six" recruiting class, was examined at halftime of the Tennessee-Stanford game by team orthopedist Dr. William Youmans. <p> When the Lady Vols took the court to warm up for the second half, Parker joined them and was dressed out for the first time.

The crowd's excitement could be heard as sections in Thompson-Boling Arena began to realize Candace Parker was in her orange-and-white warm-ups and uniform for the first time as a Lady Vol.

She was still in uniform an hour after the game, a thrilling 70-67 Tennessee win, signing autographs and accepting congratulations.

"He told me that everything was good to go," Parker said. "I was just excited."

Parker had an MRI and X-rays on Monday. Youmans examined the results of those earlier Tuesday and then arrived at the arena for an on-site medical visit.

Parker said her knee "feels great," and she is ready to play "whenever" coach Pat Summitt and Jenny Moshak, the assistant athletic director for sports medicine, feel she is up to game speed.

Parker has been hard to keep sidelined at practice recently - she had vowed in September after surgery to repair articular cartilage and the lateral meniscus in her left knee to return this season - and has kept creeping onto the court to shoot and play low-key games with her teammates. Usually Summitt or Moshak had to order her off.

"I don't have to look over my shoulder to do something now. I just do it," Parker said with a smile. "Jenny's been good to me. I'm back."

Moshak and Youmans agreed to release Parker, but her biggest test is yet to come.

"He's taking this with a level of caution, because we have to test it," Moshak said. "What I've been doing with her is not a Pat Summitt practice. What we want to do is progress her slowly, see how the knee tolerates it, if it swells we kill her (comeback). The key is not to let her play in a game prematurely because then that starts the clock. If she plays one game and then we pull her the rest of the season, she lost that year of eligibility."

Moshak is not calling off the Parker watch and will make sure she doesn't try to do too much too soon.

"I'm going to be standing right there," Moshak said. "Pat said I had the total greenlight on all of that. We really need to assess, but we're optimistic."

Moshak has had a busy fall with three freshmen rehabbing knee injuries. Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood played in her first game last Sunday after spending the last three months rehabbing a severe case of patellar tendonitis that threatened to end her season before it started. Alex Fuller, who is taking a redshirt year, is coming back from reconstructive knee surgery.

"Two down, one to go," Moshak said. "This is what I do. This is my national championship to see them put their uniforms on."

For two months, the most-common question Summitt heard was when is Parker coming back. On Tuesday evening that question changed to when will Parker play in her first game.

"Don't even go there," Summitt said with a smile. "I have no idea. I'm just excited Dr. Youmans gave her the greenlight so she gets to start practice. (Associate athletics director for media relations) Debby Jennings wanted her to dress out so I said, 'Put her in uniform.' I almost put her in late."

Parker, who's listed as 6'3 but appears taller, is from Naperville, Ill., where she starred for Naperville Central High School. She was the first woman to win the PowerAde Jam Fest at the McDonald's High School All-American Game event. She is the only two-time USA Today National Player of the Year (2003 and 2004), and she was twice selected as the Naismith and Gatorade Prep Player of Year (2003 and 2004) and the only high school junior to ever receive both awards. She was everyone's All-American, including Parade, WBCA, McDonald's and Street & Smith. In her senior year in high school Parker averaged 24.3 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.5 blocked shots and 3.3 steals per game.

Last summer she led the USA Women's Junior World Championship Qualifying Team to a 5-0 record and the gold medal in Puerto Rico. She averaged 16.6 points and 8.8 rebounds a game. Candace Parker played on that team with current Stanford star and fellow freshman Candice Wiggins. USA teammates called them "Ace" and "Ice."

Before the season started Summitt had this to say about Parker: "I've not seen a player come out of high school with her size and her skills, what she brings to the court."

Pretty soon the rest of women's college basketball will get to see for themselves.

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